Full disclosure this list was horrible to make not only organizing the films on the list but trying to define what films should and shouldn’t count was a nightmare and I probably haven’t got it right but I needed to make certain limits to maintain my sanity making this list. This list is a more personal one based on personal enjoyment, quality and little pieces of nostalgia, so as much as I love a good JCVD or Steven Segal movie they won’t be making the cut. The top 4 especially are all some of my top 20 movies ever in general. I won’t be counting Historical Epics such as Braveheart or Gladiator and superhero movies won’t be included either also war movies don’t count nor will Gangster movies or westerns. There will be some missing movies that should be on the list too because I just happen to like others more or I forgot about them, I have had to expand from my usual top 10 to 20 for this list.
Number 20- Predator
Yes, I have this lower than some would like but it’s more due to how much I love the other movies on the list because Predator is awesome with some of the greatest suspense in 80s action cinemas. If nothing else it contains the greatest handshake ever known to men between Arnie and Apollo Creed.
Number 19- Lethal Weapon 2
A great film in a great franchise I adore this film so much, the only reason it’s slightly lower than maybe I would personally like is because I do think the movie leans more toward comedy than action in parts.
Number 18- Die Hard
I feel like I may actually get killed for putting this lower on the list, there really isn’t anything wrong with Die Hard at all I just don’t love it as others do and yet I still love the film and watch it often. Also, yes, I believe Die Hard is a Christmas film, anyway the action is fantastic and Bruce Willis is the perfect lead for the movie. I cannot really fault it in any way.
Number 17- The Raid
While the sequel may be overall better I simply prefer the simple narrative of this film and I love the quick pace in which it runs. From a certain point on The Raid is essentially nonstop action and contains some of the greatest fist fights ever put to screen, on a significantly smaller budget these guys put most Hollywood filmmakers to shame.
Number 16- The Mission Impossible franchise (3-6)
I’m straight up gonna cheat here because I can’t even begin to rank these films as on their own some of them may be higher on the list. So, I’ll put them together but further down. I’m picking 3 through 6 as the first is more of a thriller and the second is rubbish. 3 and 4 have some of the most mind-blowing action spectacles made and all the credit goes to Cruise who still puts his life on the line to entertain audiences say what you will about the man but he truly cares about providing great action cinema and that needs to be admired. Because this franchise uses actual practical effects and stunts it’s the most enduring action franchise and shows how dull franchises like The Fast and Furious truly are.
Number 15- Bourne Franchise
Last time cheating I promise, this trilogy is phenomenal and you can pick any as favorite and I would not argue at all. These films perfect the use of shaky cam and use it correctly. They feel raw and real at times and create a fascinating story line running through all three. They helped reinvent the action spy genre. While I felt Legacy was a misfire it came right back with Jason Bourne which I felt was fairly underrated although more could have been done with it. In general, these films excel in both story and action making them a must see.
Number 14- The Road Warrior
Until a certain film appearing later in the list this was the film that defined the Mad Max franchise by presenting an original take on the apocalypse where people fight for gasoline in a wasteland. Mel Gibson is so charismatic in the role of Max, a character who cares about nothing but his own survival yet you still care about him. The film is extremely simple in its focus and tells its story with minimal dialogue and through the action. The film contains such memorable character designs and fantastic use of the landscape, you really get a feel for the wasteland. The final action sequence is a 15 minutes long chase sequence that took a long time to top and even now still holds up as one of the greatest action sequences put to film.
Number 13- Lethal Weapon
The quintessential buddy cop movie, Lethal Weapon has one of the wittier scripts for an action film and strikes the perfect balance between the cheesy humor and darker aspects of the story. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are brilliant both in their individual performances and as a duo they have so much chemistry that any scene of them bickering is absolute gold. The action sequences deliver in spades and Gibson really established himself as a true star with this film but the film lives and dies by the relationship between the leads. Even the lesser films of the franchise are worth watching because of Gibson and Glover so it makes for the perfect comfort binge.
Number 12- Escape From New York
John Carpenter back again in a film that contains one of the most badass characters put to film in Kurt Russell as Snake Plisken. The film isn’t really a conventional action film but it’s so exciting in its world building and creating atmosphere, it moves at an exciting pace and excels in pure suspense. The film does have a low budget so some parts may look a little dated but this is just an awesome film with a premise that is so much fun.
Number 11- Big Trouble in Little China
This film is just pure stupid fun and it’s amazing. Kurt Russell as Jack Burton is one of the greatest comedic performances in any movie ever as he lampoons the classic action hero with a hilarious impression of John Wayne types, a hero who isn’t really all that useful. The film runs at a non-stop pace and Carpenter is so creative in his direction. The film is equally hilarious and exciting, making it a pure joy to watch from start to finish. It combines a number of genres to create something that is completely original and despite not being successful upon its release has found success as a cult film.
Number 10- John Wick Franchise
Ok so one last time I am going to cheat because it is far too difficult for me to split these films apart as they are all equally brilliant and build perfectly from one another. Instantly this franchise should be given praised as it revived the career of the consensus nicest person in the world Keanu Reeves. Seriously the best part of these films is the action choreography and inventive world building from the writers and directors of the franchise. The directors of the franchise are two prolific stunt men and fight choreographers who understand the importance that action sequences have clean cut long shots as opposed to shaky camera and 100 cuts in one movement. As always Keanu Reeves gives himself to the role, he is not the most versatile actor but his commitment is unparalleled especially in the martial arts training he goes through to give the audience an authentic experience. This franchise started out with a surprise hit and truly has blown up. Much like the number 2 film on this list these are modern action films that put others to shame by using practical effects and putting genuine effort into all the sequences which is why John Wick is the best action franchise of the 2010s. Although as a dog lover and owner I can never watch the first 20 minutes of the original ever again.
Number 9- The Crow
I hesitated to put this film here despite the fact I love it. The Crow is without a doubt an action movie and has great action sequences, the reason I struggled is because it’s an incredibly sad film which tells a mature and heart-breaking story about overcoming grief. I’m including the film because I think it’s brilliant. It truly has great action sequences and is extremely exciting but it’s not really one to relax while watching as it tells a dark and sad story that is emotionally engaging.
Number 8- Point Break
This is purely a nostalgia pick as me and my Dad have both had a special love for this film and make constant joking references to it also it is still a genuinely entertaining film. It’s pure cheesiness and stupid but works on so many levels. Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze are both so much fun in the film but it’s Gary Busey who steals the show. The ex-presidents are some of the most iconic bank robbers in any film and the action sequences are second to none-from the foot chase and sky diving sequences. It’s pure dumb fun from start to finish with some amazing directing from future Oscar winner Katherine Bigelow.
Number 7- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
The second film in the franchise is in my opinion the most underrated of the bunch and takes the risk of doing something different from the original. Temple is the darkest of the franchise and has a smaller setting than Raiders but this works. Harrison Ford is again brilliant as Indy and I don’t care what anyone says Short Round is awesome. The last 40 minutes of Temple is one of the most exciting final acts in any movie ever as it becomes non-stop action that keeps escalating until the brilliant bridge sequence. Seriously if you have disregarded Temple give it a second chance as its just as good as any film in the trilogy (Skull sucks).
Number 6- Casino Royale
While Daniel Craig has had a mixed record as Bond he absolutely struck gold with Casino Royale in what is for me easily the greatest Bond film and the most exciting of the franchise. There are so many memorable sequences from the Parkour and airport chases, the stairwell fight or the final shootout. The action here is smaller scale but brutal and exciting making for some of the most suspenseful action sequences of the past couple of decades. Casino moves at a perfect pace and maintains the suspense in the quieter sequences and is almost a perfect movie from start to finish.
Number 5- Raiders of the Lost Ark
This film is so iconic for a reason it’s absolutely perfect. Indiana Jones is an all-time great character, a lovable jerk with all the charm in the world and Harrison Ford is the only actor who could have played this role. One of the simple traits that makes the film so exciting is the vulnerability of the main characters who constantly finds himself in danger or getting hurt which makes things all the more exciting when he comes out on top. The truck chase is a masterclass of action filmmaking as it builds and builds ramping up the tension gradually featuring some of the simple yet intense stunts put in a car chase. Raiders captures the feeling of adventure and is a pure joy to watch and really has risen above the action genre and is rightfully viewed as an all-time classic in general.
Number 4- Inception
Again, much like The Crow I struggled with putting Inception on the list as I don’t really see it as an action movie but technically it is and it’s one of my top 12 movies of all time so I couldn’t not include it. To be fair the film features some great sequences such as the zero-gravity fight or the snow shootout. The film really is more of a thriller and uses the suspense of the situation as opposed to explosion but it’s still one of the most exciting films I have seen and is of course a genius piece of cinema with a plot that trusts the audience to follow the story rather than talking down to us. It’s rare to see a blockbuster with brains but Inception is one of the finest examples of this and is a modern masterpiece.
Number 3- Terminator 2: Judgment Day
James Cameron has created two of the greatest sequels ever made and while I love the first Terminator equally I consider that as more of a horror than action film. Terminator 2 is a film I have loved from such a young age that I have a major attachment to it. It has 3 great main characters and perfectly carries on the story line from the first film using the genius switch of having the Terminator being the protagonist this time around. Much like in The Matrix, Terminator 2 has big grand special effects yet still uses in camera stunts and gives some realism to the action rather than relying on the CGI. James Cameron knows how to get the most suspense out of his action sequences and even now after seeing the film multiple times I still wince when the main characters are in danger despite knowing the outcomes in the film. It also has a heart and gets you invested in all of the main characters even making the emotionless machine loveable, the film was so revolutionary at the time and still holds up to this day unfortunately the franchise would take a plunge after this but Terminator 2 remains a masterpiece of the action genre.
Number 2- Mad Max Fury Road
In many ways, I believe that Mad Max Fury Road is the action genre perfected; it tells a simple yet somewhat deep story all through visuals in what is almost a 2-hour car chase with very few breaks and some of the most mind-blowing action sequences ever. George Miller the director was in his 70s making this film and puts more effort and energy into the action than any young director working today. The film features two memorable leads in Tom Hardy as Max and Charlize Theron as Furiosa both of whom play two compelling characters who despite the small amount of dialogue go through major character arcs that see them either gain their humanity back or finding redemption. Personally, I actually prefer Tom Hardy’s interpretation of the character as he is almost like a feral animal but throughout the film we see him transition into more like the Gibson version but Hardy just has more of that crazy edge to him. Again, the action is awe inspiring from the first car chase, the sand storm scene, the fight between the two leads, the motorbike truck chase and the final 20-minute chase sequence at the end. Fury Road has so much manic energy yet finds small moments to breath and get to the emotional core of the film, telling its story through visuals rather than slowing things down too much. Some action films now are often lazy or boring, Fury Road feels like a call back to the films of the 80s when more effort was put into the stunts and making a more exciting experience in action films.
Number 1- The Matrix
I can’t put into words how much I love The Matrix. There is so much I can praise about this film from the premise, the effects, the cinematography of the characters. It’s all just amazing but what I will focus on is the phenomenal action which mixes in shootouts with brilliantly choreographed Martial Arts fights creating a unique action film that changed cinema forever. The third act to The Matrix is my favorite of any action movie ever, because it moves from one amazing set piece to another. The list is brilliant so let’s go through it. You start off with the shootout against the security guards, then move on to the roof top bullet time sequence, next is the helicopter sequence, then the subway fight which is my favorite movie fight scene and then the climax sequence which provides the payoff to the film’s big question. Along with this you care about the characters of Neo, Trinity, and Morpheus which furthers the suspense within the action. The Matrix in general is a must watch for any film fans and one of the most influential films of recent times. What I especially love about the action is that it contains big special effects shots but doesn’t rely on computer effects and still has the actors and stuntmen work to keep the action believable and still holds up completely to this day. Neo at the start is a very relatable character searching for answers and purpose in life and it’s this heroes journey that is the heart of the film. The Matrix actually uses the action especially the final sequence to get across an incredibly positive message meaning there is a lot of heart and emotional investment in each action sequence. The fight scenes are so important to modern action movies as at the time this kind of choreography was not seen in American cinema as the Wachowski’s used influences of anime and Asian cinema, creating an influence that can be felt as recent as the John Wick movies.